I don’t really have to tell you this, but creating an MMORPG is a huge undertaking. These are some of the most complex games in terms of design and technology to create, and the amount of resources that are required to make a top tier game is staggering (and risky, which is why we’ve seen a decline in AAA titles). Large teams have to be assembled, huge amounts of capital raised, and years spent taking a vision to reality.
Yet that’s not always the way it’s done. Sometimes a couple of friends have an idea for an online game that they want to make, and they simply go for it. Maybe one person wants to make that title that nobody else has and starts plugging away at it during his or her free time. In any case, seriously tiny teams — we’re talking one to five people, here — have been able to accomplish the seemingly impossible by creating MMOs with a skeleton crew filling all the roles from producer to artist to marketer.
In today’s column, I wanted to salute the monumental effort that these tiny teams gave in making MMOs all by their lonesome.
Ascent: The Space Game
Whipped into existence in 2013 by two admittedly inebriated IT managers, Ascent aspired to be the most insanely full-featured space sandbox MMOs ever made. According to the feature list, this game included “combat, trading, exploration, starbase construction, research, custom-built ships, planetary mining, farming, asteroid mining, gas giant harvesting, wreck salvaging, colonization, and owning an NPC fleet.” You know, the basics.
While it never had much in the way of great graphics or a huge following, Ascent got a lot of our respect for seeing mostly one person do what Star Citizen and its endless pockets is still struggling to accomplish.
Minions of Mirth
If it was just you and your spouse, do you think you could take a full-fledged MMORPG from nothing to a launch in under a year? Probably not, right? But this is exactly what Josh Ritter and Lara Engebretson did in 2006, creating Minions of Mirth in 11 months with a bit of outsourcing and a whole lot of sleepless nights. “It was like living in a cult,” Ritter later said of the development process. “We were highly motivated, and stressed, by the fear of impending financial doom.”
Minions of Mirth ran until 2017 when it was shut down due to a hard drive failure. Its offline version is still playable today.
For many years now, Project Gorgon has been brewing with a playable alpha and a whole lot of innovative concepts that you don’t see in the modern MMO space. What is more remarkable is that this game is largely the effort of MMORPG developer veterans (and married couple) Eric Heimburg (Asheron’s Call, Star Trek Online) and Sandra Powers (Asheron’s Call, EverQuest II). While some outsourcing is being utilized for graphics and art assets, the game’s core development has literally stayed in-house. As in, in their house. Here’s hoping they can get this MMO to launch in the near future.
The Imperial Realm: Miranda
This open world MMORTS bills itself as the “one-man MMO,” as it is the sole brainchild of Robert Basler, who has been hacking away at it for years now. The game went into early access release back in May 2017 and has been steadily adding features such as its Brave New World graphical overhaul and biome expansion.
Speaking of space sims, we’ve been keeping our eye on Prosperous Universe’s development over the last year or so. Right now the whole project is being handled by three people, who are striving to establish a strong economic foundation and featureset for this futuristic title.
Probably only a very few of us might remember a news piece or two back in 2010 about this odd game called LOVE. It kind of blipped on and off the scene, most notable for the fact that it was a MMORPG created by one guy named Eskil Steenberg. He whipped up a procedurally generated world that leaned heavily on emergent content to fill up players’ time.
One Hour One Life
One of the newer entries on this list, One Hour One Life gives players a mere 60 minutes to play the lifespan of a character before he or she dies and passes advancements on to the next generation. The game was made by Jason Rohrer, who wanted to see how groups of players would build up a civilization over numerous generations of inhabitants.
Gods and Idols
Here’s a persistant MMORTS that went into Steam early access back in late 2016. Players get to play a deity trying to dominate the universe with radiation, supernovas, and huge fleets. The project was primarily led by Johannes Pihl and Shon Pan, with a dozen contributors who added some art and programming to the mix.
This older graphical MMO enjoys a puzzling popularity despite lacking sound or modern game design. That’s even more surprising considering that it came about through a project originally made by four German college students back in 1995.
Lest we forget, Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle forged the very first massively multiplayer virtual world back in 1978 with the text-based MUD1. Much of what these two men did laid the foundation for the MMORPGs that we enjoy today. What have you done with your life?